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  • feedwordpress 12:00:21 on 2017-06-26 Permalink
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    Beginning at the End 

    Part of the CAH Startup Lab Experimenting in Business Series

    By Rachael Meleney and Aline Holzwarth

    Missteps in business are costly—they drain time, energy, and money. Of course, business leaders never start a project with the intention to fail—whether it’s implementing a new program, launching a new technology, or trying a new marketing campaign. Yet, new ventures are at risk of floundering if not properly approached—that is, making evidence-based decisions rather than relying on intuition.

    Let’s say your company is in the business of connecting consumers to savings accounts, helping them save for retirement through your app. You need to decide how your product will achieve this. Let’s look at how an intuition-backed approach (Company A) compares to a research-backed approach (Company B) in this scenario:

    Screen Shot 2017-06-17 at 11.43.54 AM

    What if there was a way to more reliably ensure that business risks weren’t as prone to failure? As we see in the example above, the solution lies in well-planned experimentation.

    If businesses can learn to identify concrete decisions needed to move new or existing projects forward, and set up experiments that directly inform those decisions, then much of the painful time, energy, and monetary costs of mistakes can be avoided. However, many business leaders and entrepreneurs are weary and unsure about how to leverage research to benefit their companies most effectively. Therefore, they rely (perhaps unknowingly) on riskier decision-making approaches.

    As social scientists at Dan Ariely’s Center for Advanced Hindsight at Duke University, we’re in the business of human behavior and decision-making. We see in our research the effects that our biases and environments have on our ability to make optimal decisions. In the high-risk environment of building a company, founders aren’t well-served by calling shots based on gut feelings or reasoning plagued by cognitive biases. (Don’t feel bad! We’re only human!)

    The better route? Rigorous experimentation. Asking well-formed research questions, designing tests with isolated variables and control groups, randomizing users to groups, and using data to inform business decisions.

    Adapting the Process: Making Experimental Results Actionable

    At the Center for Advanced Hindsight’s Startup Lab (our academic incubator for health and finance technologies), our mission is to equip startups with the tools to make business decisions firmly grounded in research.

    But the research process has to be more accessible to businesses. Entrepreneurs often come to us excited about research, but with little to no idea of what it takes to execute a rigorous experiment. There’s a lot of anguish, confusion, and hesitation about where to even begin.

    The Startup Lab makes experimentation more approachable to entrepreneurs who have the will, but often not the time and resources to run studies like our colleagues in academia.

    There are specific considerations that businesses take into account when wading into the world of research. An important one is what makes investing in experimentation worthwhile? The driving purpose of running experiments, in most business contexts, is to uncover results that are clearly actionable.

    So how do you ensure actionable results? You set up your process with this goal in mind from the start – not as an afterthought. The Startup Lab adapts Alan R. Andreasen’s concept of “backward market research”[1] to bring the process of planning and executing a research project to entrepreneurs.

    The ‘Backward’ Approach: Beginning at the End

    “Beginning at the end” means that you determine what decision you’ll make when you know the results of your research, first, and let that dictate what data you need to collect and what your results need to look like in order to make that decision.

    This ‘backward’ planning is not how businesses usually approach research projects. The typical approach to research is to start with a problem. In business, this often leads to identifying a lot of vague unknowns—a “broad area of ignorance” as Andreasen calls it—and leaves a loosely defined goal of simply reducing ignorance. For example, startups often come to us with the goal of better understanding their customers. While we commend this noble goal, we ask, “to what end?”

    What business decision will you make based on what your research uncovers?

    The problem with the simple exploratory approach is that it sets you up for certain failure from the start. An unclear question produces an unclear answer. You’ll end up with data that you can’t possibly base a concrete decision on.

    Let’s revisit the example of Company A (the intuition-based entrepreneurs) and Company B (their ‘backward market research’ counterparts). If you approach product development based on intuition like Company A, then you may be tempted to ask your customers about the challenges they have saving, or their ideal income at retirement – but this would be misguided if you don’t first determine what you will do with this information. If you find that your customers have trouble saving, you might conclude that you need to give them more information about the benefits of saving for retirement. If you create and implement this content into your app only to discover that it is completely ineffective at increasing savings, will you trash your product and start over? (Probably not. But if you set up your research in this way, then that may be the only logical conclusion.)

    BMR image

    But imagine that instead, like Company B, you plan a research project to collect data on your users’ saving behavior (instead of probing to reduce your ignorance on their stated savings challenges). You set up an experiment to test two different ways of encouraging users to save (your two treatment groups, reminders and social accountability) against the current version of your product (what we call a control group).

    Now you’ve set up an experiment, but you can’t stop at designing your research.

    The “backward market research” approach forces you to specify which decisions you will make based on the outcome.

    If the social accountability version leads your users to save twice as much as they do when using your base product, will you implement this mechanism in your product strategy? How will you do so, and what might the implications be? Once you determine 1.) The decision you will make from every possible outcome of your research results and 2.) How each decision will be implemented, then your research is set up to lead to actionable insights that have the power to move your business forward.

    P.S. You too can design and conduct experiments using the ‘backward market research’ method. Use our handy tool to guide you through the backward approach: ‘Beginning at the End’ Worksheet.

    And remember, to orient your research toward actionable decisions, start with the end in mind.

    [1] Andreasen, A. R. (1985). ‘Backward’Market Research. Harvard Business Review, 63(3), 176-182.

    At the Center for Advanced Hindsight’s Startup Lab, our academic incubator for health and finance tech solutions, we aim to instill a commitment to research-backed business decisions in the companies we bring into our fold. We will be releasing more articles and tools like this as part of our Experimenting in Business Series on our blog. Leveraging research for smart business decisions is a powerful skill—we’re aiming to make rigorous experimenting less intimidating and more accessible to a broad range of businesses.

    By the way—we’re also accepting applications for the Startup Lab’s upcoming program, which starts in October. We’re looking for startups that are eager to experiment, and demonstrate a passion for building research-backed solutions to health and finance challenges.


    You only have until June 30th at 5pm EST.

  • feedwordpress 12:00:24 on 2017-06-18 Permalink
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    Build better health and finance tech products for humans. Join the Startup Lab. 

    We’re excited to announce that we’re searching for our next class of the Startup Lab, which begins October 2017. Applications are only open until June 30th at 5pm EST.

    Apply to the Startup Lab now.

    Our academic incubator supports problem-solvers by making behavioral economics findings accessible and applicable. See how behavioral researchers and entrepreneurs work together at the Center for Advanced Hindsight:

    The Startup Lab provides:

    • Ability to explore behavioral economics and learn how to leverage findings for your startup
    • Opportunity to collaborate with world-renowned behavioral researchers
    • Guidance and resources to run rigorous experiments
    • Office space in downtown Durham, NC up to 9 months (October-June)
    • Investment up to $60k

    Are you insatiably curious about what drives decisions, shapes motivation, and influences behavior? Does your startup’s success hinge on the ability to affect positive behavior change that helps people live happier, healthier, and wealthier lives?

    We’re looking for startups that are eager to experiment, and demonstrate a passion for building research-backed solutions to health and finance challenges.


    You only have until June 30th at 5pm EST.


    To learn more, visit our FAQs (includes information on the Startup Lab investment structure and other logistics) or connect with us at startup@danariely.com.




  • feedwordpress 16:17:59 on 2017-04-22 Permalink
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    Last post about the INT 

    With great sadness I am writing my last post about my adventures in the INT!
    Linking Ithaka and the INT, using this poem from Cavafy
    As you set out for Ithaka
    hope the voyage is a long one,
    full of adventure, full of discovery.
    Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
    angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
    you’ll never find things like that on your way
    as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
    as long as a rare excitement
    stirs your spirit and your body.
    Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
    wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
    unless you bring them along inside your soul,
    unless your soul sets them up in front of you.
    Hope the voyage is a long one.
    May there be many a summer morning when,
    with what pleasure, what joy,
    you come into harbors seen for the first time;
    may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
    to buy fine things,
    mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
    sensual perfume of every kind—
    as many sensual perfumes as you can;
    and may you visit many Egyptian cities
    to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.
    Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
    Arriving there is what you are destined for.
    But do not hurry the journey at all.
    Better if it lasts for years,
    so you are old by the time you reach the island,
    wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
    not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
    Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
    Without her you would not have set out.
    She has nothing left to give you now.
    And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
    Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
    you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

  • feedwordpress 09:54:34 on 2017-04-22 Permalink
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    After a month on the INT 

    Just got back to the US (2 hours ago) after hiking for a month on the INT
    What an amazing adventure, what a way to spend a month, and what a list of adventures.  Ron and I ended this adventure with a glorious party in the desert, and it made coming back to life easier (or so I think right now)
    Taking a month to walk and think was very clarifying and useful and right now I am certain that it will make a real difference moving forward it my life.  We will see.
    And for now I am keeping my bread from this month — maybe to hold onto the adventures for a bit longer.

  • feedwordpress 18:35:58 on 2017-03-17 Permalink
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    Ooops, emails sent by mistake 

    Earlier today, a number of my blog subscribers received several automated messages for “new” blog posts, which were actually previously-published posts from the Center of Advanced Hindsight (my research lab). This was an accident that came about as I was trying to integrate the two sites. (I certainly did not intend to spam you!)

    My team and I temporarily shut down the site while we identified the cause of the issue and made sure the mailing server was disabled. I am happy to report that the issue has now been resolved.

    Please accept my apologies for cluttering your inbox (a topic I am extremely sensitive to). We are taking steps to ensure that this doesn’t happen again.

  • feedwordpress 15:21:40 on 2017-03-17 Permalink
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    Vlad Chituc: “Rad” 

    Beginning this month and continuing each month after, we will be showcasing a member of the Center for Advanced Hindsight. For February, the lab member with this dubious honor is Vlad Chituc.


    How long have you worked at CAH?

    Nearly four years.

    What brought you to CAH?

    Good luck, Dan’s generosity, and the opportunity to do really interesting and impactful research.

    What is the primary focus of your research?

    The social influences of moral decision-making.

    Your favorite experience while working at CAH?

    Academic: soliciting bribes from a few hundred Duke students.
    Nonacademic: our champaign sabering party.

    If you weren’t a researcher, what career path would you have followed instead?

    I’d have wanted to be a writer.

    Which living person do you most admire?

    Dan – corny but true !

    What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

    Empathy (Paul Bloom is very persuasive)

    || (Note: Bloom wrote a piece about this topic for the Boston Review and it can be found here. It’s worth checking out!) ||

    Which BE words or phrases do you most overuse?1

    Sunk cost

    Which talent would you most like to have?

    I’d like to be able to go 15 minutes without checking social media.

    What do you consider your greatest achievement?

    Writing about my research in The New York Times.

    Who are your favorite writers?

    Nonfiction: Joan Didion, Larissa MacFarquhar, David Foster Wallace
    Fiction: Junot Diaz, Haruki Murakami, Kurt Vonnegut

    Which historical figure do you most identify with?

    Whoever had the idea to domesticate dogs.

    What is your motto?


    Do you have any shoutouts?

    My dog, Toad, who is perfect and I do not deserve him. My old friends who have moved on from the Ariely lab, who I also miss dearly.

    The post Vlad Chituc: “Rad” appeared first on Center for Advanced Hindsight.

  • feedwordpress 15:21:40 on 2017-03-17 Permalink
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    Behavioral Economics: Valentines Day Edition 

    It’s that time of the year again. Love is in the air, birds are chirping. Naturally, you are looking for topical behavioral economics material. Here are a few articles and videos to guide you through Valentines Day, whether you are single and searching, or taken and unsure.

    Dan Ariely: On Dating and Relationships

    When hiring, companies are willing to pay external CEOs much more, yet they perform worse than CEOs that are promoted internally. We tend to overestimate how glorious other people are, at the expense of the people whose wrinkles we are familiar with. This wonderfully illustrated video features Dan speaking about how this phenomenon impacts the world of dating.

    “When we’re in a relationship but continuously with one foot out, and continuously thinking about how the outside world is more tempting and more interesting and so on, it’s actually not a good recipe for investing in a relationship. It’s not a zero-sum game, it gets better when you invest in it. And when you don’t think you are there for a long time, the likelihood of investment is just not that high.”

    Bargaining Theory and Divorce rates

    This piece examines bargaining theory and how it relates to the divorce rate of roughly 4,000 couples over a six year period. Although the couples who misjudged how happy their partner was in the relationship had a higher divorce rate, bargaining theory predicted it should have been significantly higher, given the percentage of couples that fell into this category (roughly 60% of them!) The researchers found that caring, or gaining happiness from your spouse being happy, accounted for the results.


    “The idea of love here is that you get some happiness from your spouse simply being happy,” Friedberg says. “For instance, I might agree to do more house chores, which reduces my personal happiness somewhat, but I get some offsetting happiness simply knowing that my partner benefits.”

    Why Online Dating is So Unsatisfying

    Online dating have you down? You aren’t alone, in this video Dan highlights some of the things online dating gets wrong, and how the experience could be improved. Remember, humans are like wine, not digital cameras! (and ogres are like onions!)

    “Online dating sites assume that people are easily described on searchable attributes, they think that we are like digital cameras, that you can describe somebody by their height, and weight, and political affiliation and so on, but it turns out that people are much more like wine. That when you taste the wine, you could describe it, but it’s not a very useful description, but you know if you like it or don’t. It’s the complexity and the completeness of the experience that tells you if you like a person or not.”

    Behavioral Economics Valentines Day Poems

    Finally, this blog post features a few behavioral economics related poems collected from Twitter. What better way to sweep your Valentine off their feet?

    “Discounting the future”

    I proclaim my affection

    Early, not late

    Because my love

    Has a high discount rate

    The post Behavioral Economics: Valentines Day Edition appeared first on Center for Advanced Hindsight.

  • feedwordpress 15:21:40 on 2017-03-17 Permalink
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    Common Cents Report: Behavioral Interventions Helping Americans Save More 

    New report one of the most significant applications of behavioral economics in field of LMI financial decision-making

    San Francisco and Durham, NC – Feb. 8, 2017 – Common Cents, a financial research lab at Duke University and supported by MetLife Foundation, today unveiled its 2016 Annual Report.


    The report details findings from seven completed behavioral intervention programs and ongoing research begun in 2016.  The work is part of Common Cent Lab’s three-year effort to improve the financial well being for 1.8 million low-to-moderate income (LMI) households in America.

    Common Cents is one of the first to use social science field experiments within financial organizations for the purpose of gaining scalable behavioral insights that can improve Americans’ financial decision-making. The 2016 Annual Report enables companies and financial service providers to better understand the actions of modern consumers in an era of changing workforce trends and new financial tools.

    “Many times, companies build products without a full understanding of human behavior. At the same time, academics arrive at novel theories that may be too difficult to drag and drop into a business model,” said Common Cents founder, Behavioral Economics Professor and New York Times bestselling author Dan Ariely. “We are trying to bridge the gap between academia and industry to produce actionable and scalable behavioral insights that increase savings, eliminate debt and extend consumer benefits in a way that are economically viable for business.”

    In a baseline study of LMI participants, Common Cents found that 36% self-reported having less than $500 in savings (including retirement savings). Yet 92% of respondents listed three or more specific actions they could take to improve their financial security. Common Cents helps to bridge the gap of this Intention/Action gap by focusing on interventions within five core areas:

    • Improving Cash Flow Management
    • Decreasing Expenses
    • Managing Debt
    • Increasing Short-Term Savings
    • Increasing Long-Term Savings

    The Common Cents approach to designing financial interventions is informed by a three-step process for behavioral diagnosis that includes identifying the specific and desired key behaviors, removing the barriers impeding that behavior, and then amplifying its benefits of that behavior.

    Common Cents created and executed its 2016 interventions in partnership with 17 fintech companies, credit unions and financial services organizations of different types and sizes, in addition to specific experiments conducted within the lab.

    For example, EarnUp is a loan management company that partnered with Common Cents to identify the role of psychologically satisfying numbers in paying off loans faster. Rounding increased the number of people who chose to overpay by approximately 40%, saving an average of $8,000 each in interest and shortening their loan term by two years. Common Cents estimates that all participating users could total $1.25 million in interest savings through this one simple change.

    “Common Cents is a vital partner in helping us understand how to help consumers take back control of their financial lives,” said Matthew Cooper, co-founder of EarnUp. “Their process is at once visionary and practical, showing us how to simply and efficiently motivate Americans to dramatically pay off loans faster and more affordably.”

    Other example partners and interventions from the 2016 Annual Report include:

    • Digit: Nearly doubled tax time savings with SMS for this mobile savings app;
    • Propel: Modified the mobile app view to extend longevity of food stamp benefits for SNAP recipients;
    • Community Empowerment Fund: Increased savings deposits using punch-cards;
    • Payable: 14.5% increase in the number of independent contractors clicking to begin retirement saving by reframing their perception of wages.

    Once complete, each of the 2016 interventions was rigorously tested and measured for impact before publicly sharing the results. Through these interventions, in combination with ongoing research, Common Cents expects its programs, when fully rolled out, to have a direct positive impact on 465,000 LMI households.

    “MetLife Foundation is proud to fund Common Cents and its behavioral intervention work,” said Evelyn Stark, Assistant Vice President, MetLife Foundation. “It is exciting to witness this unique application of behavioral economics in financial technology to measure the outsize impact these small changes can have for consumers. We look forward to collaborating with Common Cents to continue to improve financial decision making.”

    Common Cents will soon announce the newest participants in its 2017 partner programs. They will continue their focus on the five core areas, with a specific emphasis on short-term savings and cash flow management.

    For detailed results of each 2016 intervention, to review a copy of the Annual Report, or to read more about participating partners please visit: http://advanced-hindsight.com/commoncents-lab/share-our-findings/.


    About Common Cents

    The Common Cents, supported by MetLife Foundation, is a financial research lab at the Center for Advanced Hindsight at Duke University that creates and tests interventions to help low-to-moderate income households increase their financial well being. Common
Cents leverages research gleaned from behavioral economics to create interventions that lead to positive financial behaviors. The lab is led by famed Behavioral Economics Professor Dan Ariely and is comprised of researchers and experts in product design, economics, psychology, public policy, advertising, business administration, and more.

    To fulfill its mission, Common Cents partners with organizations, including fintech companies, credit unions, banks and nonprofits that believe their work could be improved through insights gained from behavioral economics. To learn more about Common Cents Lab visit http://www.commoncentslab.org.

    About MetLife Foundation

    MetLife Foundation was created in 1976 to continue MetLife’s long tradition of corporate contributions and community involvement. Since its founding through the end of 2016, MetLife Foundation has provided more than $744 million in grants and $70 million in program-related investments to organizations addressing issues that have a positive impact in their communities.

    Today, the Foundation is dedicated to advancing financial inclusion, committing $200 million to help build a secure future for individuals and communities around the world.

    To learn more about MetLife Foundation, visit www.metlife.org.


    The post Common Cents Report: Behavioral Interventions Helping Americans Save More appeared first on Center for Advanced Hindsight.

  • feedwordpress 15:21:40 on 2017-03-17 Permalink
    Tags: , psychology, Uncategorized   

    Ignoring Experts, Revisiting Willpower, and Diving Head-first into Corruption 

    The bad news first: Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow yesterday, leaving us with six more weeks of winter. The good news? You have six more weeks of winter to get cozy and read some articles.

    Here are a few recent pieces that we found interesting:

    1. Public more likely to ignore experts if science is too easy: study

    A little knowledge is apparently a dangerous thing. This piece gives an overview of the false confidence that having a basic understanding of an issue can give. It highlights that while popular science can be a great tool, ultimately experts in a field are considered experts for a reason. As a user from the “A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior” Facebook group pointed out, the solution that Dan employs to counter this effect is to ask his students to predict the outcome of an experiment before he reveals the result. This allows them to see that perhaps they wouldn’t have guessed the outcome correctly and that experimentation is often a difficult and intensive process.

    “Reading simplified depictions may induce the impression of having already obtained a fairly complete picture of the issue at hand.” 

    A graphical representation of the relationship between confidence and experience:

    screenshot_799Credit: (http://www.artandtechnology.com.au/)

    You can read the paper the article references here.

    2. Against Willpower

    This article questions the prevailing narrative surrounding the importance and definition of willpower. The writer suggests that reframing a problem in order to overcome it is more effective than pitting your willpower against it in a head-on battle. For example, if all day you make a deliberate effort to remind yourself not to engage in chosen vice, whether coffee, cigarettes, junk food, etc.., by the end of the day you will likely be mentally exhausted. Alternatively, through reframing your goal, your willpower can be taxed to a lesser degree.


    “A paradigmatic example of reframing is the phenomenon of “temporal discounting,” in which people tend to discount future rewards in favor of smaller immediate payoffs. When offered $5 today versus $10 in a month, many people illogically choose immediate gratification. However, when the question is reframed to make the tradeoffs explicit—“Would you prefer $5 today and $0 in a month or $0 today and $10 in a month?”—more people choose the larger, delayed reward.”


    3. Does Corruption Happen Slowly, or All at Once?

    When removing a band-aid, are you someone who would rather pull it away slowly, or yank it off all at once? If you are in the latter camp, you may be able to relate to the process by which this article theorizes that individuals engage in unethical behavior such as bribery. It is thought that small unethical acts allow individuals to adapt to the increasing cognitive dissonance between committing unethical acts and viewing yourself as a moral individual, however, this piece suggests that in some cases the transition can be much swifter.


    “(…) It’s also possible that a one-time transgression might be easier to justify, psychologically, than repeated corrupt acts, “and thus could cause less tension between being a moral person, on the one hand, and enjoying the benefits of dishonesty, on the other hand,”


    The post Ignoring Experts, Revisiting Willpower, and Diving Head-first into Corruption appeared first on Center for Advanced Hindsight.

  • feedwordpress 15:21:40 on 2017-03-17 Permalink
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    Making Exercise Meaningful 

    By: Conor Artman and Aline Holzwarth 

    It’s no secret that we would all be better off if we exercised a bit more. And yet, we struggle to exercise for many reasons: some cite the high opportunity cost of the time spent exercising, others say they don’t have the energy, and even more simply don’t enjoy it.

    But rather than dwelling on excuses, we wondered how we could encourage people to exercise more, and help them savor exercise rather than dread it.

    To answer this question, Aline Holzwarth and Conor Artman teamed up with the brains behind The Fabulous app, alumni of our Startup Lab and Google Play Editor’s Choice and Awards Finalist for Most Innovative and Best Design. The Fabulous helps users design healthy daily rituals through personalized in-app journeys to fit a variety of goals —from exercising more to eating better, from sleeping well to feeling more energetic. Some users have even referred to The Fabulous as “a happiness designer.”

    We were interested in three research questions: Does the addition of a ritual help? Does the type of ritual matter? And does it matter whether people are asked to choose their own exercise ritual, or are simply told what to do?

    First, we asked a random subset of 800 Fabulous users to add a ritual to their exercise routine, and randomly assigned them to one of two conditions — either the Choice condition, where they were given the choice between one of four exercise rituals, or the No Choice condition, where they were randomly assigned to one of the same four rituals.

    All rituals began with the following two steps:

    Remind yourself why it is important to you, personally, to exercise.

    Say this to yourself out loud: “I’m getting fit. I’m getting healthy. I’m getting happy.”

    After these two steps, it gets interesting. Depending on which ritual users were assigned to, or which ritual they chose (for the half of participants who were given a choice), they were asked to perform a few more steps.

    In the Choice condition, users saw all four rituals and could pick which one that they’d like to perform (as shown here).

    Screen Shot 2016-11-16 at 15.59.34


    Each corresponding ritual included the following instructions:

    Those in the No Choice condition were simply given one of these four rituals (Mindful, Stretch, Counting, or Tap In) and asked to perform the ritual before each time that they exercised

    When people finished exercising, they were asked to rate their exercise experience.

    Screen Shot 2016-11-16 at 16.00.26

    And at the end of each week, they were asked to report how often they actually performed the ritual before exercising, as well as how often they exercised, how much they enjoyed performing the ritual, and how much they enjoyed the exercise.

    Screen Shot 2016-11-16 at 16.00.58

    As for those three research questions..

    1. Does the addition of a ritual help?

    Indeed! Across all rituals, participants reported on average that the ritual both made them exercise more, and made them want to exercise more.

    1. Does the type of ritual matter?

    Users preferred the condition where they designed their own ritual (the “Tap In” condition) in virtually every respect. This included self-reported good feelings, ritual and exercise frequency, ritual and exercise enjoyment, and the desire to use the ritual for the next workout.

    1. And does it matter whether people are asked to choose their own exercise ritual, or are simply told what to do?

    When users were given the choice of which ritual they wanted to add to their exercise routine, no matter which ritual they chose, they enjoyed exercising more. They also reported a greater desire to perform the ritual, had higher exercise frequency, enjoyed the ritual more, and were more likely to exercise.

    In summary, rituals can be a promising means of encouraging exercise behavior, and this effect appears to be driven by various forms of choice. When users were given the ability to choose a ritual, and when they had full control over the design of their ritual, they experienced the most favorable results. Given the classic literature by Ellen Langer on the illusion of choice, where (as just one example) participants who were allowed to choose a lottery ticket became overly attached to their ticket (and demanded more to resell it, compared to participants who were given no choice in their ticket),[1] it is not surprising to find a positive effect of choice. Interestingly, despite the strength of such personalization, only 9% of users in the Choice condition chose the “Tap In” ritual where they could design their own ritual. On the other hand, the Mindful and Stretch rituals, while far more popular (chosen by 38% and 46% of users in the Choice condition, respectively), were less effective.

    While previous research has suggested that rituals can imbue ordinary tasks with deeper meaning, help deal with monetary losses, and even facilitate grieving, our experiment suggests that how the ritual is constructed can change the ritual’s effects.[2,3] Interestingly, in our experiment the only positive effect we observed was when people could choose to personalize how their ritual works, and the more constraint we put on individuals’ exercise rituals, the worse they stuck to them. Taken together, it may be the case that personalizing rituals are as important as incorporating them as a regular action in order to make rituals meaningful and effective for dealing with both psychological and physical pain. So, the next time that you want to motivate yourself to go for a run or pick up the weights, try making up your own ritual that you perform every time you begin.

    [1] Langer, E. J. (1975). The illusion of control. Journal of personality and social psychology, 32(2), 311.

    [2] Vohs, Kathleen D., Yajin Wang, Francesca Gino, and Michael I. Norton. “Rituals enhance consumption.” Psychological Science 24, no. 9 (2013): 1714-1721.

    [3] Norton, Michael I., and Francesca Gino. “Rituals alleviate grieving for loved ones, lovers, and lotteries.” Journal of Experimental Psychology: General143, no. 1 (2014): 266.


    The post Making Exercise Meaningful appeared first on Center for Advanced Hindsight.

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